Using public school tax revenue to pay for creation of a “golf academy” or “access fees” to a local private golf club were part of a 2017 proposed agreement, said Lakota school officials, from the since-indicted Butler County auditor, according to public records obtained by the Journal-News.
Last week, a Butler County grand jury approved a sixth felony charge against Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds contending he had an unlawful interest in a public contract in 2017.
The charge involves public school tax revenue Reynolds’ office routinely returns to taxing districts — including Lakota Schools — each year that are not needed to pay for his office’s services.
According to emails recently obtained by the Journal-News, in February 2017, Reynolds requested and attended a meeting with Lakota Schools Treasurer Jenni Logan and the “golf pro of the Four Bridges Country Club” in Liberty Twp., which is within the borders of the Lakota school system.
In a Feb. 1 email from Logan to Lakota’s attorney at the time, Matt Stout, she asked him to advise her on the legality of Reynolds’ proposal.
“He (Reynolds) would like to take one-half of the fee money he is expecting to return to us (approximately $250,000) each for the next 3 years ($750,000 total) and use it towards a partnership with Four Bridges Country Club who is planning to build a new golf academy,” wrote Logan.
“He indicated he has never suggested how we use this fee money but he would now like to. We met with the golf pro of the Four Bridges Country Club and Mr. Reynolds to discuss the details of this facility and how something like this could even come about.”
“I did explain we could not use our money to build a facility on their land. The conversation then went into maybe this could be considered an “access fee”. I told Mr. Reynolds we would first find out legally if something like this could be done and how, and then we would discuss should it be done,” wrote Logan.
Attorney Stout then replied to Logan in a Feb. 13 email where he stated: “If the County returns the money to the School District, we can find no statutory authority for the School District to use the money (or any other money of the School District) to fund a private golf academy at a private country club.”
Moreover, wrote Stout: “If the County keeps the money instead of the refund, it seems that it is a question for the County Prosecutor as to whether or not the County would be authorized to use County funds to fund a private golf academy.”
“In addition, using either School District or County funds to fund a private golf academy may be found to be in violation of Article 8, Section VI of the Ohio Constitution which prohibits the lending of aid and credit by a political subdivision to a private entity.”
“Based on this, we don’t believe this idea works under Ohio law.”
Logan then asked about the proposed “access fee” for the suggested golf academy, to which Stout replied: “I assume that school districts enter into agreements to use facilities for sports such as golf and other activities on a regular basis. However, I am pretty certain the access fees are not in the range of $250,000 annually.”
Stout wrote “in this case, I think the ‘”access”’ fee would be viewed as a way to funnel the money to fund a private golf academy and circumvent the law.”
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said last week Reynolds is a resident of the Four Bridges Golf Club community and said this latest charge involves family members.
Neither Reynolds nor his attorney would comment on last week’s new charge but have maintained his innocence from the beginning.
“Mr. Reynolds has never solicited, accepted, or paid any bribes, and he has never used his position, authority, or influence to improperly benefit himself or anyone else. Mr. Reynolds has served the Butler County community with honor for the past 19 years, without even a hint of impropriety,” according to a released statement.
Reynolds has maintained he is the victim of a political witch hunt by the state to punish him for challenging a state-mandated property value hike.
Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota Schools, said Reynolds’ proposal was not acted on by the district.
“Lakota Local Schools did not enter into any type of agreement with Mr. Reynolds. This entire case involving Mr. Reynolds is incredibly unfortunate for the residents of Lakota and Butler County,” said Fuller.